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02.7 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Disentangling the Reform Gridlock: Higher Education in Germany

2002 – Helga A. Welsh


For more than a decade, bemoaning the many roadblocks to reforming important aspect of German politics has become commonplace. Explanations emphasize formal and informal veto points, such as the role of political institutions and the lack of elite and societal support for reform initiatives. Against this background, I was interested in factors that place policy issues on the political agenda and follow up with concrete courses of action; i.e., in factors that lead to a disentangling of the reform gridlock. I emphasize the importance of agenda setting in the emergence of higher education reform in Germany. Globalization, European integration and domestic pressures combined to create new pressures for change. In response, an advocacy coalition of old and new political actors has introduced a drawn-out and ongoing process of value reorientation in the direction of competition, including international competition, and greater autonomy. The result has been a burst of activities, some moderate, some more far-reaching in their potential to restructure German higher education.